Last night’s result against York seems very much like a case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’. With the praise of Arsene Wenger ringing in our ears we went to Bootham Crescent expecting a sizeable win. Instead we now have our first genuine ‘must win’ match of the season.
It’s a must win on Saturday in the context of us being knocked out if we don’t, but it isn’t a must win in the context of the league season. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it several more times no doubt, but winning the league is the most important thing to achieve this season. Winning the FA Trophy would just be a bonus, but having never played at Wembley it is a significant and important bonus to Imps fans. Remember the last proper trophy we won? 1988. That says it all.
I don’t think we were that bad last night at all, I think we faced a York team that is growing in confidence. They had an experienced and physical side out, and as the game wore on that began to tell. It started really well for City, I thought Adam Marriott linked up well with Lee Angol, and our pace caused them issues time and time again. We were incredibly unfortunate to go in with just a solitary goal to our name, we looked dangerous every time we strode forward.
Second half it was a different story, York came out far more resolved and together than we’ve seen them this season. Big Jon Parkin put himself about well and had far more of an impact than he did in the league game, and for spells in the final 45 we looked the weaker side. Let us not get this wrong though, this wasn’t a case of fatigue or match weariness, nor did the management cost us the game with the team selection. This was a tough and direct York side finally getting a win under their belts. I bet they wish it’d been a league game, I’m sure we’re glad it wasn’t.
The real turning point for York was the introduction of Aidan Connolly at half time, I thought he had a real influence in the second half. York had to have a go after falling a goal behind, and he gave them a real lift which was visible to all in the ground. Our front two didn’t seem to find any time on the ball as the game wore on, and the pacey approach we’d reaped rewards with in the first half didn’t pay dividends in the second. It was a well contested game of football, and remember it is just half time. Nobody remembers a first leg defeat if you go on and win the second leg.
I do have a gripe though, and this is only my opinion, but one of the changes did not need to happen. I don’t think there was a need to put Ross Etheridge in goal instead of Farms, especially not after Farm’s man of the match display on Saturday. There may be a reason for it, he may have finally succumbed to all of those 80th minute knocks he seems to pick up in games. If it was purely for a rest though, I would perhaps have done it on Saturday in front of the home crowd. I think my opinion is formed by an intense distrust of young loan goalkeepers (Parrish, Judge, Ghent), and whilst Etheridge wasn’t entirely at fault for the goals, I did feel the change unsettled those in front of him. If it were me (and I’m an armchair pundit with nothing more than a few Football Manager titles to my name) I would have played Etheridge behind our usual back four on Saturday, and played Farms in the away leg behind McCombe and Howe.
I know Danny wouldn’t come out and say it, but the referee was diabolical. Even Gary Mills admitted a few of his players went in late, but not one of them picked up a booking in a brutish and uncomplicated first half approach. I saw Angol hacked down at least twice, if not more and yet the cards stayed in the pocket. Shaun Rooney was fortunate to get away with a couple of challenges, but apparently it wasn’t fouls the referee was keen on, he booked Angol for failing to retreat from a free kick! Inconsistency at it’s best, and I would hope the referee assessor watched very closely, and made a few notes which he underlined in red pen afterwards. I hope for a far stronger official on Saturday, because that could be a deciding factor in the outcome of the game. York are a physical and sly side, and they indulge in the dark arts in a similar manner to Barrow. If we have an astute referee in the second leg I can see York suffering because of it, but if we have another official out of his depth like last night then we could be in serious trouble.
Perhaps it isn’t worth noting that we’ve gone behind in two-legged semi-finals on three occasions; 2004, 2006 and 2007. On every occasion we failed to overturn the deficit. Let’s hope there is no omen there!
It isn’t the end of the world losing two on the bounce, not when one is against Arsenal. In fact we’ve lost back to back games on three occasions this season, but each time we’ve bounced back in considerable style, and I fully expect the same on Saturday. Will we see the Lincoln Lizards again, or will DC introduce players such as Alex Woodyard and Nathan Arnold to give us the nudge we need towards Wembley? A FGR win on Saturday would see them draw level on points with us, so we must be on our game come Tuesday away at Boreham Wood too. our days, two games and a crucial period of the season. It’s squeaky bum time sat here at my keyboard, but then I’m an eternal pessimist and constant worrier.
Still, it’s nice to have something to play for in the middle of March, isn’t it?